Why Central Heating Causes Dry Coughs and How to Prevent Them

Why Central Heating Makes Me Cough and What To Do About It

If you find yourself coughing more often when the central heating is on, you’re not alone. Central heating can dry out the air and irritate respiratory passages, leading to coughing for some people. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to reduce the drying effect of central heating and keep your airways calm.

Why Central Heating Causes Dry Air

Central heating works by warming air and distributing it throughout your home via vents and ducts. However, this heated air lacks moisture. As it circulates, the dry air evaporates moisture from surfaces like your skin, nasal passages, throat, and lungs. This can make tissues dry, irritated, and inflamed, which triggers coughing.

Colder outdoor air is able to hold less moisture than warm indoor air. So when you heat up cold outdoor air, its relative humidity drops dramatically. Central heating systems also lack a humidification component to add moisture back into the air.

Tips to Reduce Central Heating Coughs

Here are some tips to retain moisture in the air and avoid coughing from dry indoor heating:

  • Use a humidifier to add moisture back into the air. Cool mist and warm mist humidifiers are both options. Aim to keep indoor relative humidity around 30-50%.
  • Place hydration stations around your home – bowls of water or moist towels – to evaporate into the air.
  • Cook soups, stews, and other moist foods to release steam and moisture.
  • Take steamy showers and baths to hydrate your respiratory passages.
  • Sleep with a humidifier near your bed to hydrate airways at night.
  • Avoid dehumidifiers which reduce moisture further.
  • Breathe through your nose instead of mouth to warm and moisturize incoming air.

Other Ways to Soothe a Central Heating Cough

In addition to adding moisture to the air, a few other remedies can provide relief:

  • Suck on cough drops to coat and soothe your throat.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Gargle with salt water to ease throat irritation.
  • Use a warm compress on your throat and chest to retain moisture.
  • Try honey or herbal teas to naturally soothe coughs.
  • Consider taking an expectorant to loosen mucus.
  • Use a vapor rub on your chest to open airways.

If your cough persists for weeks or you experience additional symptoms like fever, see your doctor to rule out illness. Chronic coughs may require prescription medication. Your doctor can also check your heating system and indoor humidity levels to identify any issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does dry air make me cough?

Dry air irritates and inflames respiratory passages, making you cough reflexively to clear your airways. Dryness pulls moisture out of throat tissues.

Should I run a humidifier all the time?

It’s recommended to use a humidifier whenever the central heating is running. The ideal indoor humidity range is 30-50%. Use a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels.

What humidity level is too low?

Indoor relative humidity below 30% is generally considered too dry. At this level, you may experience dry skin, irritated eyes, sore throat, and increased coughing.

Can steam help a cough?

Yes, steam can provide moisture to soothe dry airway irritation that triggers coughing. Try sitting in the bathroom while showering, using a steam humidifier, or inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water.

Should I see a doctor for a heating cough?

See your doctor if your cough persists for several weeks or if you have additional symptoms like fever, wheezing, chest pain, or breathing difficulty. A chronic cough may require medication.

What causes a chronic cough?

Besides dry air, other causes of chronic cough include asthma, allergies, smoking, air pollution, sinus problems, lung disease, heartburn, and certain medications. See a doctor to diagnose the cause.

How can I hydrate my respiratory system?

Drink plenty of fluids, use a humidifier, take steamy showers, breathe through your nose, and suck on cough drops to coat your throat and retain moisture in your respiratory system.


For more tips, check out this resource to managing indoor moisture and humidity.


Published by

Dennis Reed

Dennis Reed Owner and Author @ BreatheBetterAir.org